© St. Petersburg Times, published September 24, 2002
They are lucky. They haven't beaten anyone of any consequence. Eventually, they will fade.
The Carolina Panthers know those things are being said about them and their startling 3-0 start. They know the doubters are out there and there are a lot of them.
But frankly, they don't care. After being the laughingstock of the league in 2001 when they became the first team to lose 15 straight in a season, they insist they are as good as their record indicates even if few believe it.
"We've got a good football team," safety Mike Minter said. "I think each week people are going to realize that. They're comparing us to last year. We're not last year's football team. This is a new team."
It's true, the Panthers haven't played a quality opponent. Their wins are against the Ravens (0-2), Lions (0-3) and Vikings (0-3). But they played impressively in beating the potent Vikings, holding them to 250 yards and explosive receiver Randy Moss to four catches for 16 yards.
Still, until the Panthers beat someone of substance (they play at Green Bay on Sunday), the skepticism will persist. Not that the Panthers care.
"We can't really make anyone take us seriously or not," safety Deon Grant said. "It definitely doesn't matter to us. New England won a Super Bowl and they still didn't take those boys seriously until this year."
DOES LEBEAU NEED TO GO?: Questions are already beginning to circulate in Cincinnati about coach Dick LeBeau's job security. After the Bengals were embarrassed on national television Sunday night 30-3 by the previously winless Falcons, dropping them to 0-3 for the third time in four seasons, LeBeau was asked if he had any plans to resign.
"I will do my best at this position as long as I am at this position," he said.
That might not be long. The Bengals are 10-22 under LeBeau, who took over for the fired Bruce Coslet after the Bengals started the 2000 season 0-3.
LeBeau announced Monday that Akili Smith starts at quarterback Sunday against the Bucs, taking over from Gus Frerotte.
THE NO FUN OFFENSE: So much for coach Steve Spurrier's Fun "n' Gun offense so far.
The Redskins average 16 points a game after setting league records for points scored in the preseason.
Things might not get better soon. Spurrier is considering starting rookie quarterback Patrick Ramsey after the team's bye this week.
"We're going to coach young Patrick up," Spurrier said. "We'll see if Patrick is ready. If we feel he can play as well or better than what we have, we'll look into that."
FLYING HIGH: The Eagles turned in another eye-popping performance, drilling the Cowboys 44-13.
Averaging 35 points, they are the second-highest scoring team in the league (the Patriots average 38.3) and have the fifth-best overall defense, numbers that likely will get better after they host the expansion Texans on Sunday.
How they lost to the 1-2 Titans to start is still a mystery.
JUST A THOUGHT: Dolphins tight end Randy McMichael, a fourth-round pick from Georgia who has a team-leading 11 catches for 186 yards and two touchdowns, might be the steal of this year's draft.
BUT COACH, HE STARTED IT: There might be more trouble brewing in Minnesota after television cameras caught quarterback Daunte Culpepper angrily shouting at Moss on the sideline.
The Vikings bickered frequently last season, and apparently their 0-3 start has caused the squabbling to resurface.
Moss certainly isn't blameless. After all the preseason talk about him showing more leadership and less selfishness, he clearly could be seen giving less than maximum effort, which has been a recurring problem the past couple of seasons.
Moss downplayed the incident, saying "I think (Culpepper is) just frustrated that we're sitting right now at 0-3."
MARTY ON DEFENSE: The Chargers, who have the league's top-ranked defense, say they beat the Cardinals 23-15 only after coach Marty Schottenheimer got on the field with them. Well, sort of.
During a timeout with the Cardinals facing first and goal from the Chargers' 9-yard line in the closing minutes, Schottenheimer left the sideline and huddled with his defense on the field, telling the players to take it one play at a time.
"That woke everybody up. I've never in my life had a coach do that," defensive tackle Leonardo Carson said. "So, I knew it was time to crank my motor up and give it my all and leave it out there on the field. I think everybody zeroed in on that."
The Chargers fended off four pass plays, one for no gain and three incompletions, to preserve the win.
-- Information from other news organizations was used in this report.